On Friday, Dec. 8, Ethan Crumbley, 17, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for killing four of his classmates and wounding others in the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School. Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree premeditated murder and terrorism causing death.
Following Crumbley’s sentencing, Defense Attorney Sarissa Montague spoke with WWMT – News Channel 3 regarding the case and Crumbley’s sentencing from a defense attorney’s perspective. Montague is not connected to the case.
“It’s hard anytime there’s a situation like this, it’s tragic,” Montague said during her interview. “There are no other words. It’s tragic what happened. I think it was a really difficult decision for the judge to make.”
Earlier this year, Crumbley went through what is called a “Miller hearing,” which is standard for minors who could potentially receive a life sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama established that minors cannot be sentenced to life without parole unless prosecutors can prove that the defendant is “irredeemably corrupt.”
“Ethan Crumbley was very young (at the time of the shooting), but they went through the process – they went through the Miller hearing, they made a finding at the Miller hearing that he would be eligible for life without parole,” Montague told WWMT. “And then after listening to the statements considering all the information provided by the defense and by the prosecution, this was the decision the judge came up with.”
When asked if she thought Crumbley deserved the sentence he was given based on her experience in courtrooms, Montague responded:
“That’s a hard question because it is tragic what happened and I think we all feel that,” she said. “The one thing that sticks out to me as a defense attorney, and that’s what I’ve been for my entire career, is the fact that he was so very young when this happened. The question really is, is there a chance for rehabilitation and do people think that rehabilitation trumps essentially the other factors that the court is to consider. And that is what I think happened – that even though the defense and probably a lot of people out there believe that there is a possibility that over time Ethan Crumbley could be rehabilitated, the question is are the other factors that the judge considers more worthy than that rehabilitation?”
Crumbley’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are also being charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the shooting. Oakland County prosecutors charged them based on the fact that they bought their son the gun that he used in the massacre.
When asked if a parent could be held criminally culpable for the actions of the minor child, potentially setting a precedent in Michigan, Montague said:
“What we know at this point is that the Michigan courts are allowing, at least in this particular situation, the parents to potentially be held responsible for the acts of a child, and the parents are able to stand trial for their alleged involvement in the situation. But ultimately, it’s going to be up to the trial of facts, in this case the jury, to determine whether or not the parents should be held responsible for the acts of their son.”
Since the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s mental health has been a matter of great debate. Montague agreed that mental health is an issue that needs to be raised by attorneys, if it pertains to their case, stating:
“It’s certainly an issue we have to raise to the court if we believe there’s a mental component to this. If there’s a mental health issue that caused or was somewhat involved with the criminal acts that took place, as defense attorneys its our responsibility to raise that issue to the court.”